Quango accused of failing to protect green belt

Fears have been raised that thousands of homes could be built on Kent countryside after the head of a quango charged with protecting it said “the sanctity of green belt land should be questioned”.

Dr Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England, said that the green belt, put in place half a century ago to avoid urban sprawl, was “not intended to deal with the complex environmental challenges that face us today”.

Natural England is a quango set up a year ago with a remit to “preserve and enhance the natural environment”.

Large parts of west Kent are designated as green belt land, particularly around Sevenoaks and Dartford.

The comments were made as part of a speech to mark Natural England’s first anniversary.

Dr Phillips said: “Our approach must be to show how large numbers of new houses can be provided with the right services in places that are pleasant to live, work and play in, rich in wildlife and that are designed as attractive, distinctive, self sustaining landscapes.

“And if we can develop in this way, creating corridors of green space, restrConecting people and the natural world, there is no reason why we shouldn’t look again at the green belt.

“Nobody could deny, and we do not, that the greenbelt has achieved its primary purpose in constraining urban sprawl. But the consequence of this is that development tends to leapfrog over the green belt and land in much more vulnerable parts of the natural environment.”

The comments did not go down well with countryside protection groups.

Dr Hilary Newport, head of the Kent branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said she was “very, very concerned that strict controls could be relaxed”.

She said: “The important thing about green belt land is that it is permanent. To allow it to be built on would be the death knell for some of the lovely countryside we have got.

“It would be a very, very retrograde step for protection of countryside and important green spaces.

“We are putting an awful lot of reliance on projections for population growth. We’d like to see the Government take a more consistent approach. Everyone recognises the need to use less water and less energy, I am struggling to understand why there isn’t a similar consensus on what we can actually provide – the South East is using more water than it actually has and the Government seems intent on ignoring this fact.

“It is very disappointing that a governmental, or quasi-governmental body isn’t doing more to put its money where its mouth is and protect the countryside.”

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP for the South East, questioned the independent nature of Natural England.

She said: “It seems to me it ought to be the guardian of the countryside, but I have to say one year on there are question marks as to whether or not it has shown itself to be strong and stand up to the Government.

“Is this the Government or the interests of developers speaking? It is the same with all these quangos - you never know whose agenda they are pushing.”

kentnews.co.uk, 03.11.2007

Further News Articles »